How James Joyce’s Daughter, Lucia, Was Treated for Schizophrenia by Carl Jung

The life of James Joyce’s schiz­o­phrenic daugh­ter Lucia requires no par­tic­u­lar embell­ish­ment to move and amaze us.  The “received wis­dom,” writes Sean O’Hagan, about Lucia is that she lived a “blight­ed life,” as a “sick­ly sec­ond child” after her broth­er Gior­gio. As a teenag­er, she “pur­sued a career as a mod­ern dancer and was an accom­plished illus­tra­tor. At 20, hav­ing aban­doned both, she fell hope­less­ly in love with [Samuel] Beck­ett, a 21-year-old acolyte of her fathers.” He soon end­ed their one-sided rela­tion­ship, an inci­dent that may have trig­gered a psy­chot­ic break. Beck­ett was one of the few peo­ple to vis­it her lat­er in the men­tal hos­pi­tal where she died in 1982 after decades of insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion.

Before suc­cumb­ing to her ill­ness, Lucia was a high­ly accom­plished artist who worked “with a suc­ces­sion of rad­i­cal­ly inno­v­a­tive dance teach­ers,” notes Hermione Lee in a review of a recent biog­ra­phy that “prove[s]… Lucia had tal­ent.” (See her above in Paris in 1929.) Her promise ren­ders her fall that much more dra­mat­ic, and her tragedy has inspired var­i­ous­ly sen­sa­tion­al biogra­phies, plays, a nov­el and a graph­ic nov­el. Lucia also inspired an unflat­ter­ing por­trait in Beckett’s Dream of Fair to Mid­dling Women and, most famous­ly, per­haps pro­vid­ed a mod­el for the lan­guage of Finnegans Wake. As Joyce once remarked, “Peo­ple talk of my influ­ence on my daugh­ter, but what about her influ­ence on me?”

The rela­tion­ship between father and daugh­ter has pro­vid­ed a sub­ject of dis­turb­ing spec­u­la­tion, pos­si­bly war­rant­ed by Lucia’s “father-fix­at­ed… men­tal ago­nies,” as Stan­ford’s Robert M. Pol­he­mus writes, and by “eroti­cized father-daugh­ter, man-girl rela­tion­ships” in Finnegans Wake that weave in Freud and Jung “with sexy nymphets on the couch­es of their sec­u­lar con­fes­sion­als.” At least in the excerpt Pol­he­mus cites, Joyce uses the pruri­ent lan­guage of psy­cho­analy­sis to seem­ing­ly express guilt, writ­ing, “we gris­ly old Sykos who have done our unsmil­ing bits on ‘alices, when they were yung and eas­i­ly freudened….”

With­out infer­ring the worst, we can see the rest of this unset­tling pas­sage as par­o­dy of Jung and Freud’s ideas, of which, Louis Menand writes, he was “con­temp­tu­ous.” And yet Joyce sent Lucia to see Carl Jung, “the Swiss Twee­dledee,” he once wrote, “who is not to be con­fused with the Vien­nese Twee­dledee.” His daughter’s behav­ior had become “increas­ing­ly errat­ic,” Lee writes, “she vom­it­ed up her food at table; she threw a chair at Nora [Bar­na­cle, her moth­er] on Joyce’s 50th birth­day… she cut the tele­phone wires on the con­grat­u­la­to­ry calls that friends were mak­ing about the immi­nent pub­li­ca­tion of ‘Ulysses’ in Amer­i­ca; she set fire to things….”

After a suc­ces­sion of doc­tors and diag­noses and an “unwill­ing incar­cer­a­tion,” Jung agreed to ana­lyze her. He had become acquaint­ed with Joyce’s work, hav­ing writ­ten an ambiva­lent 1932 essay on Ulysses (call­ing it “a devo­tion­al book for the object-besot­ted white man”), which he sent to Joyce with a let­ter. Jung believed that both Lucia Joyce and her father were schiz­o­phren­ics, but that Joyce, Menand writes, “was func­tion­al because he was a genius.” As Jung told Joyce biog­ra­ph­er Richard Ell­mann, Lucia and Joyce were “like two peo­ple going to the bot­tom of a riv­er, one falling and the oth­er div­ing.” Jung also, writes Lee, “thought her so bound up with her father’s psy­chic sys­tem that analy­sis could not be suc­cess­ful.” He was unable to help her, and Joyce reluc­tant­ly had her com­mit­ted.

Much of the rela­tion­ship between Joyce and his daugh­ter remains a mys­tery because of the destruc­tion of near­ly all of their cor­re­spon­dence by Joyce’s friend Maria Jolas. (Like­wise Beck­ett burned all of his let­ters from Lucia). This has not stopped her biog­ra­ph­er Car­ol Loeb Shloss from writ­ing about them as “danc­ing part­ners,” who “under­stood each oth­er, for they speak the same lan­guage, a lan­guage not yet arrived into words….” What is clear is that “Joyce’s art sur­round­ed” his daugh­ter, “haunt­ed her from birth,” and was part of the cir­cum­stances that led to her and her broth­er often liv­ing in extreme pover­ty and insta­bil­i­ty.

Lucia resent­ed her father but was nev­er able to ful­ly sep­a­rate her­self from him after sev­er­al failed rela­tion­ships with oth­er promi­nent fig­ures, includ­ing Amer­i­can artist Alexan­der Calder. Whether we char­ac­ter­ize her sto­ry as one of abuse or, as Lee writes of Shloss’ biog­ra­phy (Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake), one of “love and cre­ative inti­ma­cy,” depends on what we make of the lim­it­ed evi­dence avail­able to us. The era­sure of Lucia from her father’s life began not long after his death, and hers “is a sto­ry that was not sup­posed to be told,” writes Shloss. But it deserves to be, as best as it can. Had her life been dif­fer­ent, she would doubt­less be well-known as an artist in her own right. As one crit­ic wrote of her skills as a per­former, lin­guist, and chore­o­g­ra­ph­er in 1928, James Joyce “may yet be known as his daughter’s father.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Jung Writes a Review of Joyce’s Ulysses and Mails It To The Author (1932)

James Joyce: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to His Life and Lit­er­ary Works

When James Joyce & Mar­cel Proust Met in 1922, and Total­ly Bored Each Oth­er

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (13)
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  • Brian Gay says:

    Very inter­est­ing arti­cle. It is very sad that we still have not made many strides in the fight against men­tal ill­ness.

  • Estelle Neethling says:

    A bril­liant arti­cle. One more exam­ple of men­tal pain suf­fered by so many and it seems the extra­or­di­nar­i­ly tal­ent­ed and excep­tion­al souls were and are par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble to it.

  • John Kishline says:

    There is a ter­rif­ic play by Don Nigro called LUCIA MAD that delves into the Lucia/Beckett rela­tion­ship with great soar­ing writ­ing and heartwrench­ing humor and dra­ma. I direct­ed it in 1998. Well worth the read and I’d like to do it again.

  • Gordon Wilkinson says:

    Lucia Joyce is a char­ac­ter in the won­der­ful new nov­el Jerusalem by Alan Moore.

  • I am cur­rent­ly in the midst of Alan Moore’s epic, “Jerusalem” in which the char­ac­ter of Lucia Joyce fig­ures promi­nent­ly. Par­tic­u­lar­ly in the third chap­ter of “Ver­nal’s Inquest,” the third book in the nov­el, which is writ­ten in a “Finnegan’s Wake” style fea­tur­ing the inner nar­ra­tive of a day in the life at the asy­lum where Lucia is com­mit­ted. The chap­ter is called, “Round The Bend.”

  • Gregory Lewis says:

    Fas­ci­nat­ing, but depress­ing. It is as if poor Lucia was a throw away human being of per­sona non gra­ta after insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion, for he rest of her piti­ful life. I must find out more and redeem her mem­o­ry.

  • Cynthia Haven says:

    The name of the biog­ra­phy is “To Dance in the Wake.” The author is Car­ol Loeb Shloss. You neglect to men­tion her first name, and mis­spell the last (it has no “c”), and nev­er give the title of the book.

  • William says:

    Infor­ma­tion about Lucia is very scant, and extreme­ly hard to come by. All her let­ters, the let­ters of her father to her and all oth­er cor­re­spon­dence by, or about, her has been destroyed. The Schloss biog­ra­phy was wide­ly panned because it’s almost entire­ly conjecture/opinion/pure imag­i­na­tion. For exam­ple, the entire “fable” about Lucia being her father’s muse for “Finnegan’s Wake” is based upon only 2 sight­ings of Lucia danc­ing in her father’s pres­ence while he was writ­ing it. But it is true that Luci­a’s life was trag­ic, of that there is no doubt.

  • Carol Shloss says:

    This arti­cle is dis­tort­ed and irre­spon­si­ble, it is based on my biog­ra­phy of Lucia Joyce; it does not name the source…no book title or cor­rect attri­bu­tion of infor­ma­tion. My name is mis­spelled. And the infor­ma­tion is in no way what a reflec­tion of the book in any case. JUng did treat Lucia Joyce, but he was wrong in his diag­no­sis as well as arro­gant in mak­ing it. PLease keep stuff like this off the Inter­net.

  • Carol Shloss says:

    William, you are in out­er scholas­tic space. I have all of Luci­a’s archives. You might want to read then rather than claim that the book was “panned” …which says that you read and have an opin­ion bout a review. Wow.

  • pazooter says:

    The arti­cle head­lines treat­ment, but the text belies that. All that is claimed here is that you invol­un­tary impris­on­ment only added to her mis­ery.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thank you for your com­ments, Car­ol. This arti­cle is not sole­ly drawn on your book but on oth­er sources linked with­in. Apolo­gies for the mis­spellings of your last name.

  • Cindy Forshaw says:

    That seems to be the case with many tal­ent­ed peo­ple Estelle. It seems as though there could be a fine line between Genius and Eccen­tric­i­ty. One of my Idols seems like­ly to fall into this cat­e­go­ry. The beau­ti­ful Vin­cent. His art work is amaz­ing and I have many of his prints on show in trib­ute to him.

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